Archives for category: Innovation


Veteran journalist Peg Tyre is in Japan right now, trying to learn more about their efforts to reform schools. She loves feedback from you.

Will “Spinach” Stop Japanese Schools From Teaching Kids in A Way That Promotes Innovation?
Here’s the project: The governments in Japan and South Korea say they want to educate students to become more innovative and creative in order to participate more fully in the global economy. They are promoting English language instruction (with an emphasis on speaking), self-expression, critical thinking and problem-solving. I’m on a research trip to those countries to find out more.
In my last newsletter, I asked for help. And I got it! I’ve been astonished (and delighted) by how many teachers, policymakers, researchers, students, and school administrators have reached out to share their reflections about the kind of teaching that produces innovators, what’s changing, the challenges, the opportunity, and potential for transformation in the U.S and in Japan. Again, thank you! Keep those emails coming (
Progress: I’ve been spending time with teachers, administrators and policy makers. A few days ago, I interviewed an educator, Joe Hug, who has a unique perspective on the school-to-workplace pipeline in Japan.
After working as a teacher and university professor, Hug started a consulting firm that helps Japanese teachers of English (junior high school, high school, and college) who are under pressure to create classrooms less dependent on rote learning. He also helps prepare university students to become more active learners so they can enroll and thrive in prestigious business school program in the West. He has a gig with two large, well-known Japanese companies (including a division of Mitsubishi) teaching “global competency” to their junior employees. 
Hug, who is married to Reiko Hug, a Hiroshima native, says the biggest blocker to the government’s efforts to produce a culture of innovation might be “spinach.” 
What Does That Mean? It’s a loose translation of the mnemonic Ho-Ren-So,which sounds like the Japanese word for that leafy green. In practice it works like this: Hokoku” means report everything that happens to your superior. “Renraku” means to relate all the pertinent facts (absent opinion and conjecture) to your superior. And “sodan” mean to consult or discuss all your work with your boss and your team-members. Ho-Ren-So was popularized in the 1980s by the Japanese executive and author Tomiji Yamazaki, who put the catchy name on this deeply held set of interlocking cultural values which prize collaboration, caution, and stability over risk-taking and creative problem-solving. To the Western eye, Ho-Ren-So in the workplace can look like repetitive back and forth with your team. Or having a micromanaging boss. To be clear, he wasn’t suggesting that tired ethnic cliche of “groupthink” but something more subtle: a learned aversion to “getting it wrong.”
What Does This Have to Do With Schooling? Ho-Ren-So reflects a set of norms that are reinforced in the early grades of nearly every Japanese school. Children are taught to collaborate. They are asked to follow directions precisely. And respond to questions with what the teacher has determined is the correct answer. It’s the opposite of “working well independently” which is actually something U.S. schools prize. (And a comment your parents might have read about you on your report card.) And it couldn’t be more different from the mantra of our latest crop of Silicon Valley billionaires –“move fast and break things” (which clearly has its own downside.) It’s about teaching and learning in a way to produce the answer that is expected.
Here’s Hug: “The Japanese school system is great but it focusses on teaching kids to come up with the right answer, the one that is required of them. But that’s not the modern world.” In the modern world, he says, students need to figure out “what are the possibilities.” It’s difficult to teach students that way, says Hug, when students don’t want to be seen as “getting it wrong.” 
These days, teachers are being challenged, says Hug, to create and support a classroom culture that’s flexible enough for students to make a mistake and recover from it. Where “getting it wrong’ is part of the process of getting it right. And “teachers feel abandon,” says Hug. Most didn’t learn that way. The “spinach” culture of Japan doesn’t support it. And teachers aren’t sure how to pull it off.  
Your Thoughts? Have you ever encountered “spinach” in Japanese schools or companies? How exactly are teachers in Japan going to be managing this transition? Do we have a version of that in the U.S.? Here’s a big question: Can fear of failure co-exist with innovation? I’d like to hear from you.
Know of someone who might be interested in this conversation? Send me their email.
My trip is made possible by a generous Abe Fellowship for Journalist (administered by the Social Science Research Council.) I retain full editorial control. I also appreciate the moral support of my colleagues at the EGF Accelerator, an incubator for education-related nonprofits in Manhattan.


Kevin Ohlandt has the story: The Design Thinking Academy, a charter school that won Laurene Powell Jobs’ XQ competition to “reinvent” the high school, is closing.  

Ohlandt has documents demonstrating that the school was done in by adult mismanagement and greed.

The school received a five-year grant of $10 million in 2016. It was supposed to be a “school of the future,” but it experienced high teacher turnover, administrative churn, and consequently.  declining enrollments. 

One parent said she started “having doubts about the school earlier in the year, when she noticed mass teacher turnover.

“When you start seeing a lot of people leaving all at once, you know what’s happening,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s a business.”

As Ohlandt shows, the problems of the school were even more serious than portrayed.


Jack Schneider, a historian of education who often collaborates with Jennifer Berkshire, analyzes the fading allure of charter schools. After years of claims that they would “save” public schools and poor children, the public has given up on them. Why? They have not delivered, and the public gets it.

For most of the past thirty years, charters seemed unstoppable, especially because their expansion was backed by billions from people like the Waltons, Gates, and Broad, as well as the federal government. But they have not kept their promises.

Today, however, the grand promises of the charter movement remain unfulfilled, and so the costs of charters are being evaluated in a new light.

After three decades, charters enroll six percent of students. Despite bold predictions by their advocates that this number will grow fivefold, charters are increasingly in disrepute.

First, the promise of innovation was not met. Iron discipline is not exactly innovative.

Second, the promise that charters would be significantly better than public schools did not happen. In large part, that is because the introduction of charters simply creates an opportunity for choice; it does not ensure the quality of schools. Rigorous research, from groups like Mathematica Policy Research and Stanford University, has found that average charter performance is roughly equivalent to that of traditional public schools. A recent study in Ohio, for instance, concluded that some of the state’s charters perform worse than the state’s public schools, some perform better, and roughly half do not significantly differ.

Finally, charters have not produced the systemic improvement promised by their boosters.

Competition did not lift all boats. In fact, competition has weakened the public schools that enroll most students at the same time that charters do not necessarily provide a better alternative.

Schneider does not mention one other important reason for the diminishing reputation of charters: scandals, frauds, embezzlement, and other scams that appear daily in local and state media. A significant number of charters are launched and operated by non-educators and by entrepreneurs, which amplifies the reasons for charter instability and failure.




This is an ironic story. There is no one and no institution that has done more to set off an international test score competition than Andreas Schleicher of the OECD, which administers the periodic international tests called PISA, the Programme in International Student Assessment. Every nation wants to be first. Every nation waits anxiously to see whether its test scores in reading, mathematics, and science went up or down. In 2010, when the 2009 PISA scores were released, Arne Duncan and Barack Obama declared that the U.S. was facing another “Sputnik moment,” and it was time to crack down. Others wrung their hands and wondered how we could toughen up to compete with Shanghai.

Yet Scheicher testified recently to a committee of the House of Commons that arts education may be more valuable than the academic skills that are tested.

The arts could become more important for young people than maths in the future, according to a leading education expert.

Researcher Andreas Schleicher, who leads the Programme for International Student Assessment at the intergovernmental economic organisation OECD, told a House of Commons inquiry that he believed young people could benefit more from the skills gained through creativity than test-based learning.

He was giving evidence to the Education Select Committee as part of an ongoing inquiry into the fourth industrial revolution – the influence of technologies such as robotics and artificial intelligence on society.

Schleicher, who is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading educational thinkers, said: “I would say, in the fourth industrial revolution, arts may become more important than maths.”

“We talk about ‘soft skills’ often as social and emotional skills, and hard skills as about science and maths, but it might be the opposite,” he said, suggesting that science and maths may become ‘softer’ in future when the need for them decreases due to technology, and the ‘hard skills’ will be “your curiosity, your leadership, your persistence and your resilience”.

His comments come amid ongoing concerns about the narrowing of the education system in the UK to exclude creativity and prioritise academic subjects.

Campaigners argue that this is prohibiting many young people from pursuing creative careers. However, Schleicher said that too narrow a curriculum could also make young people less prepared for the demands of the future.

You probably thought that the rightwing Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which supports charters and vouchers but not public schools, was on the opposite side of the political aisle from the Center for American Progress, which is described by the New York Times and the Washington Post as “left-leaning” (which is inaccurate).

Well, they are on the same page in sponsoring a low-budget “moon shot for kids.” 

  • By August 1, 2019, submit a brief application through our online portal. We are seeking ideas that would help the U.S. achieve one of the following big goals (your choice):
    • Cut in half the number of fourth graders reading “below basic”
    • Double the number of eighth graders who can write an effective persuasive essay
    • Shrink by 30 percent the average time a student spends in English-language-learner status
    • Double the amount of high-quality feedback the average middle schooler receives on their academic work
    • Ensure that every student receives high-quality college and career advising by ninth grade
    • Double the number of students from low-income families and students of color who graduate from high school with remediation-free scores on the SAT, ACT, or similar exams
    • Double the number of young women who major in STEM fields

The portal provides a place where, in no more than 500 words, you will sketch your idea for achieving one of those goals with the help of a public or private investment up to $1 billion.

  • By September 10, 2019, the Fordham and CAP teams will select 10 finalists, who will each receive $1,000 and be asked to flesh out their ideas in greater detail (up to 2,500 words).
  • In October or November, we’ll host a “Shark Tank” style competition in Washington, D.C., to submit the ideas to the scrutiny of a panel of judges, including educators and senior staff of large national foundations, who will pick a winner, and award a $10,000 grand prize.

This is not like the Laurene Powell Jobs competition where the prize was $10 million, but it is the same idea.

Reminds me of the Bush I program to “reinvent the schools,” called the New American Development Corporation, which offered cash for the best ideas. It all came to naught, but fortunately it was private money.

Thanks to Peter Greene, who gave me a tip on Twitter that there is no space between Fordham and CAP. Inside the Beltway, everyone is an ally.


In her book, After the Education Wars: How Smart Schools Upend the Business of Reform, Andrea Gabor identified school districts and educators who exemplified a truly forward-thinking, innovative path out of our current political stalemate. One of those districts was Leander, Texas, which was applying the principles of management guru W. Edwards Deming, thanks to a waiver from repressive state mandates.

Now Leander is looking for a new superintendent, and Gabor describes the innovative ideas that made the district remarkable. 

Deming, a statistician who died in 1993, based his quality management philosophy on two seemingly disparate ideas: The use of statistical tools to measure and improve systems and the conviction that those closest to any given process are best equipped to identify problems and opportunities for improvement. What made Deming’s ideas controversial was his insistence that meaningful employee input only works if it is based on trust. Deming opposed punitive employee evaluations and individual bonus systems on the grounds that they foster fear and undermine teamwork.

Deming’s ideas about process measurement were embraced throughout industry, but his exhortations on the importance of building a culture of trust were not.

That’s what makes Leander special. The school district adopted Deming’s ideas about using statistical analysis and teamwork to improve classroom pedagogy and school design, and even to jumpstart a student-led anti-bullying campaign. But to sustain its strategy and build a trust-based culture of the kind Deming advocated, Leander won a waiver from the state’s teacher-evaluation system.

As Gabor shows, wonderful things happen when teachers, students, and school administrators are trusted to make decisions.

She wonders whether this bright spot in American education, which should be a beacon for other districts, will survive a change in leadership. Stay tuned.


Steven Singer goes through the long list of failed innovations that “Reformers” have foisted on the schools.

Think how many billions have been wasted on standardized tests, interim assessments, data coaches, test-based evaluations, Common Core, etc.

He has an idea for an innovation that he is certain will make a difference: more people. 

Have you walked into a public school lately? Peak your head into the faculty room. It’s like snatching a glance of the flying Dutchman. There are plenty of students, but at the front of the overcrowded classrooms, you’ll find a skeleton crew.

Today’s public schools employ 250,000 fewer people than they did before the recession of 2008–09. Meanwhile enrollment has increased by 800,000 students. So if we want today’s children to have not better but just the same quality of services kids received in this country only a decade ago, we’d need to hire almost 400,000 more teachers!

Instead, our children are packed into classes of 25, 30 even 40 students!

And the solution is really pretty simple – people not apps. Human beings willing and able to get the job done.

If we were fighting a war, we’d find ways to increase the number of soldiers in our military. Well, this is a war on ignorance – so we need real folks to get in the trenches and win the battle.

We need teachers, counselors, aides and administrators promoted from within and not functionaries from some think tank’s management program.

We need more people with masters or even more advanced teaching degrees – not business students with a three-week crash course in education under their belts who are willing to teach for a few years before becoming a self-professed expert and then writing education policy in the halls of government.

We need people from the community taking a leadership role deciding how our schools should be run, not simply appointing corporate lackeys to these positions at charter or voucher schools and narrowing down the only choices parents have to “Take It” or “Leave It.”

We need people. Real live people who can come into our schools and do the actual work with students.

What an idea! Real people to do the work, instead of machines!

Thats innovation!



The privatizers got badly beaten in 2016, when they tried to lift the cap on charter schools in Massachusetts. Funded by the Waltons and the usual coven of billionaires, they asked the public to endorse a proposal to launch 12 charter schools every year, wherever they wanted to open. The referendum was overwhelmingly defeated, much to the surprise of its sponsors.

Governor Charlie Baker is a Republican who has appointed a choice-friendly State Board, so the privatizers have not given up hope for undermining democracy.

Now they are back with a proposal for “innovation zones.” 

Jonathan Rodrigues writes:

In a world where we’re more and more accustomed to jargon inherited from corporate start up world like “disruption” and “big data”, “innovation” stands out as one of the most empty vessels in which we project meaning without much thought of it.

In the education world in particular, almost anything can be “innovative”. Even bringing back purposeful segregation and differential treatment under the guise of educational opportunity. Governor Baker’s latest “Innovation Partnership Zones” may be clever, but it’s certainly not very innovative.

If only segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace had known it would be this easy to fool people, he’d had changed his 1963 speech to “innovation today, innovation tomorrow, innovation forever!”.

So what are “Innovation Partnership Zones” (IPZs), and what would the governor’s bill do? It’s important to note here this idea has prominent Democratic support as well, it was only last year that Education Committee co-chair Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley) and Senator Eric Lesser (D-Longmeadow) sponsored very similar legislation.

The bill allows groups of 2 schools or more (or one school with more than 1,000 students) to create an IPZ which would allow an outside organization to manage these schools and give the “zone” autonomy over things like budget, hiring, curriculum, etc. Essentially third-partying away the public good, but doesn’t “partnership” sounds so much better than “takeover”?

The IPZ can be triggered in two main ways.

  1. Through local initiative of school committee members, a superintendent, a mayor, a teachers group or union, and parents. .
  2. Through the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Commissioner’s choice from schools determined to be “underperforming” by high stakes testing metrics.

The process would then call for proposals jointly with an outside entity that may include nonprofit charter operators and higher ed institutions….

If past is prologue, the results should look familiar. Brown University Annenberg Institute’s 2016 report “Whose Schools?” analyzed the board composition of charter schools in Massachusetts. 60% of charter schools in the Commonwealth had no parent representation at all. 31% of charter board members were from the corporate sector, heavily from finance.

We should all look forward to our IPZs filled with executives from places like TD Bank, who certainly might live in the “region,”, but have no respect for Boston’s biggest neighborhood.

It is especially worrisome that IPZs will be inevitably pushed on communities of color, continuing a nationwide trend of stripping away voice from families of color from Philadelphia to Chicago, Detroit to New Orleans.

A 2015 Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools “Out Of Control” report examined the disenfranchisement of black and brown families through mechanisms such as appointed school boards, and state and district turnovers. In their 2014–15 analysis, there were 113 state takeover districts nationwide. 96 were handed to charter operators. 98% of affected students were Black and/or Latinx. In New Orleans, parents had to navigate 44 different governing authorities; in Detroit, 45.

The most important innovation of all would be the full funding of schools in poor communities.

He concludes:

In no place where black and brown families are the majority in the school district is the innovation of a fully funded quality public school with adequate staffing, special education services, mental health supports, art and music, full-time librarians, and school nurses ever even attempted.



Jim Scheurich is a professor at Indiana University and a public education activist. He writes here about how School Choice is intended to destroy community.


Folks, the philosophy that charter and innovation schools are built on is that your children’s school should be individualized parental choice.  This means parents individually search across the Indy area as to where to send their children, which often means leaving their neighborhood community.  Each family or individual parent is thus on her, his, or their own and not engaged with their neighborhood community.  Also, each family or individual parent is pitted against or in competition with other similar families and parents for the so-called “better” schools.

This individualistic orientation of charters and innovation schools undermines neighborhood communities and even the possibility of neighborhood communities.   Undermining neighborhood communities, according to sociological research, increases violence, including murder.  Other research shows that building community decreases violence, including murder.

This, therefore, means that charter and innovation schools are likely one of the causes of our high murder rate in Indianapolis as the individualized school choice model is broadly undermining neighborhood communities across our city. 

Of course, building community in low income areas is not easy, but not impossible.  However, many such communities have created positive community spaces.  Given the difficulty of creating such communities, we certainly do not need more policies, like charter and innovation schools, that are threats to community and community building.

If you study the neoliberal political and economic “philosophy” behind the choice school movement, you will find a strong focus on individualism over community.  If you want to understand this movement, which is driving the creation of individualistic “choice” schools, read Democracy in chains by Nancy MacLean, a Duke historian, and then read the award winningDark money by Jane Mayer, which analyzes who the Koch brothers are as they are primary supporters of neoliberalism.  Indeed, overwhelmingly, the financial supporters of neoliberalism, the people behind the curtain, the people funding Stand for Children and the Mind Trust, are conservative to rightwing billionaires.

If you don’t believe me or think I am just some conspiracy nut, I dare you to read Democracy in chainsby the highly respected Duke historian, Nancy MacLean. I dare you.

My point is that charter and innovation schools help destroy community, which according to sociological research can lead to increased violence.


Jim Scheurich, Indianapolis Public Schools Community Coalition, a multi-racial, multi-class, citywide group of Indianapolis citizens working to reverse the takeover of our school district by those funded by white, conservative or rightwing, billionaire neoliberals. Also, an activist professor of Urban Education Studies at Indiana University – Indianapolis








Carol Burris is the executive director of the Network for Public Education. She is a lifelong educator, first a teacher of Spanish, then an award-winning principal of a high school in New York.

She writes here to explain briefly why charter schools are unnecessary and are not public schools.

“When I was a high school principal, I also ran an alternative school called The Greenhouse. It was small–its average enrollment was 17 students. The students were older–juniors or seniors–who were credit-deficient or who, for personal reasons, needed an alternative setting.

“Greenhouse saved lives and reduced our dropout rate to less than 1%. It was run (and is still run) by a wonderful teacher, Frank Van Zant. I gave Frank ample resources with teachers from South Side going to the school to provide content instruction for one or two periods a day. I trusted him and gave him freedom. It has (and still has) a full-time social worker. Hours for students were more flexible. Instruction was small group. I called the Greenhouse a delicate ecology. I was careful to place in the program only those students who really needed it.
“Our students on suspension also benefitted. They would receive instruction there at the end of the day so that they were well educated and counseled when out of school and could more easily transition back.
“All of that innovation and I did not need “a charter” to do it. The ultimate authority was the School Board. The kids who graduated received a South Side diploma. In fact, by the time I left, 100% graduated with a NYS Regents diploma.
“I am weary of hearing that charter schools are public schools. That is a lie.  Public schools are governed by the public, not by a private corporation.
“Charter advocates will say Wisconsin has “public charters” because they are authorized by the school district. However, all of those district authorized schools, thanks to Scott Walker,  are now run by for-profit or nonprofit corporations. Publicly-governed charter schools without a private board are not allowed.  I do not believe there is even one public charter school–that is a charter school run by an elected school board–in the United States. Is there one left?”